Saturday, February 21, 2015

For twenty years the secret code to launch US nuclear missiles was simply 00000000. 

This item didn't not get its proper due when first published: For almost twenty years the secret code needed to launch US nuclear missiles and start World War III, was simply 00000000.

It's like buying an attache case and leaving the unlock code at the factory preset 000.

This fact was originally revealed in a column in 2004 by then-president of the Center for Defense Information Dr. Bruce G. Blair, a former US Air Force officer who had manned Minuteman silos. It was also mentioned in a paper by Steven M. Bellovin, a computer science professor at Columbia University who teaches security architecture. Both of these sources were cited in an article on the site Today I Found Out written by  Karl Smallwood.

The codes, known as Permissive Action Links (PALs), were supposed to prevent the use of nuclear weapons—and the nuclear weapons under joint control with NATO countries in particular—without the authorization of the President of the United States. 

Apparently, this security feature was largely symbolic. For two decades, multiple US presidents carried around a briefcase with the allegedly constantly changing codes. The contents might as well have been a dozen copies of bathroom reading.

There is certain irony to this simplistic code. Image a Soviet spy learning that the launch code was 00000000. He or she would start over attempting to learn the code sequence because it would be so unbelievable. 

The U. S. military claimed  they worried about the possibility of command centers or communication lines being destroyed in real nuclear war, stopping soldiers getting the codes or authorization to launch missiles when they were actually needed.
So they simply left the security code for the weapons as eight zeros, getting around the security safeguards. This was the situation from 1963 - 1978. You know in the middle of the fun Cold War years. 

Ten years after the release of this information the Air Force has gone into loud denial mode, claiming this was never true. At the same time there is push in military to replace or rebuild its existing Minuteman arsenal and needs Congress to approve money to do so.

What should the next set of codes be? PASSWORD

Dr. Bruce Blair's 2004 Column

Steven M. Bellovin Paper on PAL

Today I Found Out by Karl Smallwood